NASA's newest human spacecraft on the move

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NASA Orion
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NASA's newest human spacecraft on the move
CAPE CANAVERAL, FL - DECEMBER 04: A United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket carrying NASA's first Orion deep space exploration craft sits on its launch pad as it is prepared for a 7:05 AM launch on December 4, 2014 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The heavy-lift rocket will boost the unmanned Orion capsule to an altitude of 3,600 miles, and returning for a splashdown west of Baja California after a four and half hour flight. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
NASA's Orion spacecraft, atop a United Launch Alliance Delta 4-Heavy rocket, lifts off on its first unmanned orbital test flight from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Friday, Dec. 5, 2014, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
CAPE CANAVERAL , FL - December 5: The space craft Orion lifted off with the use of a Delta IV Heavy rocket Friday, December 5, 2014 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Orion fitted with United Launch Alliance's Delta IV Heavy rocket traveled into space to orbit Earth twice before returning into the Pacific Ocean near the coast of San Diego. (Photo By Brent Lewis/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
The NASA Orion space capsule atop a Delta IV rocket, in its first unmanned orbital test flight, lifts off from the Space Launch Complex 37B pad at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Friday, Dec. 5, 2014, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
NASA's Orion spacecraft, atop a United Launch Alliance Delta 4-Heavy rocket, lifts off on its first unmanned orbital test flight from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Friday, Dec. 5, 2014, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
NASA's Orion spacecraft, atop a United Launch Alliance Delta 4-Heavy rocket, lifts off on its first unmanned orbital test flight from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Friday, Dec. 5, 2014, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
NASA's Orion spacecraft, atop a United Launch Alliance Delta 4-Heavy rocket, lifts off on its first unmanned orbital test flight from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Friday, Dec. 5, 2014, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. (NASA/Bill Ingalls)
CAPE CANAVERAL, FL - DECEMBER 05: NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and his wife Jackie Bolden watch as the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket with NASA's Orion spacecraft mounted atop, lifts off from Air Force Station's Space Launch Complex 37 on December 5, 2014 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The heavy-lift rocket is prepared for a 7:05 launch tomorrow morning and it will boost the unmanned Orion capsule to an altitude of 3,600 miles, and returning for a splashdown west of Baja California after a four and half hour flight. (Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA via Getty Images)
NASA's Orion spacecraft, atop a United Launch Alliance Delta 4-Heavy rocket, lifts off on its first unmanned orbital test flight from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Friday, Dec. 5, 2014, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
CAPE CANAVERAL, FL - DECEMBER 05: The United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket carrying NASA's first Orion deep space exploration craft takes off from the launch pad on December 5, 2014 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The heavy-lift rocket will boost the unmanned Orion capsule to an altitude of 3,600 miles, and returning for a splashdown west of Baja California after a four and half hour flight. . (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
NASA's Orion spacecraft, atop a United Launch Alliance Delta 4-Heavy rocket, lifts off on its first unmanned orbital test flight from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Friday, Dec. 5, 2014, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
The NASA Orion space capsule atop a Delta IV rocket, in its first unmanned orbital test flight, lifts off from the Space Launch Complex 37B pad at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Friday, Dec. 5, 2014, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Photographers follow the launch of the NASA Orion space capsule atop a Delta IV rocket, in its first unmanned orbital test flight, from the Space Launch Complex 37B pad at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Friday, Dec. 5, 2014, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
After a 22-mile journey from the Launch Abort System Facility at the Kennedy Space Center, the Orion Spacecraft arrives at Space Launch Complex 37B at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2014, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. The test flight for Orion is scheduled to launch on Dec. 4. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
The NASA Orion space capsule atop a Delta IV rocket, in its first unmanned orbital test flight, lifts off from the Space Launch Complex 37B pad at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Friday, Dec. 5, 2014, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
CAPE CANAVERAL, FL - DECEMBER 04: A United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket with NASA's Orion spacecraft mounted atop is seen illuminated in the distance in this long exposure photograph taken early at Air Force Station's Space Launch Complex 37 on December 4, 2014 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The heavy-lift rocket is prepared for a 7:05 launch tomorrow morning and it will boost the unmanned Orion capsule to an altitude of 3,600 miles, and returning for a splashdown west of Baja California after a four and half hour flight. (Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA via Getty Images)
NASA's Orion spacecraft, atop a United Launch Alliance Delta 4-Heavy rocket, sits on the launch pad before its first scheduled unmanned orbital test flight from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
A NASA Orion capsule on top of a Delta IV rocket lifts off on its first unmanned orbital test flight from Complex 37 B at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Friday, Dec. 5, 2014 at Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)
A NASA Orion capsule on top of a Delta IV rocket lifts off on its first unmanned orbital test flight from Complex 37 B at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Friday, Dec. 5, 2014 at Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)
CAPE CANAVERAL, FL - DECEMBER 05: A long camera exposure photographs the Orion team members watching the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket with NASA's Orion spacecraft mounted atop, lifts off from Air Force Station's Space Launch Complex 37 on December 5, 2014 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The heavy-lift rocket is prepared for a 7:05 launch tomorrow morning and it will boost the unmanned Orion capsule to an altitude of 3,600 miles, and returning for a splashdown west of Baja California after a four and half hour flight. (Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA via Getty Images)
CAPE CANAVERAL, FL - DECEMBER 04: A United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket carrying NASA's first Orion deep space exploration craft sits on its launch pad as it is prepared for a 7:05 AM launch on December 4, 2014 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The heavy-lift rocket will boost the unmanned Orion capsule to an altitude of 3,600 miles, and returning for a splashdown west of Baja California after a four and half hour flight. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
NASA's Orion spacecraft, preparing for it's first flight, arrives at the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center, Thursday, Sept. 11, 2014, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Orion is scheduled for a test flight in early December. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
NASA's Orion spacecraft, preparing for it's first flight, departs the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building on its way to the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center, Thursday, Sept. 11, 2014, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Orion is scheduled for a test flight in early December. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Technicians make final preparations on the 18,000-pound Orion deep space exporation vehicle that was soon to be dropped into a pool of water with an impact pitch of 43-degrees after being lifted high enough on a gantry to allow it on release to swing at 47 MPH(76.6 kph) on January 6, 2012, to simulate all parachutes being deployed and landing in a worse case senario in rough seas at the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. This type of extreme angle landing isn't likely to occur but is an essential part of thorough testing. The Orion would eventually be launched by a Delta IV heavy rocket and the multi-destination deep-space crew vehicle is currently slated to visit a asteroid. The US space agency has already spent $5-billion(USD) on the capsule and it's first orbital flight test is scheduled for early 2014. AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
The new Orion crew capsule is catapulted into the air on Thursday, May 6, 2010 at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., during a test of Orion's launch-abort system, which will whisk astronauts and the capsule to safety in case of a problem on the launch pad, such as a fire, or during the climb to orbit. The Orion capsule was originally designed to take astronauts back to the moon. But President Obama in February killed NASA's $100 billion plans to return to the moon, redirecting the money for new rocket technology research. (AP Photo/Craig Fritz)
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 27: A worker pushes a cart past an Orion capsule mock-up inside the (SVMF) Space Vehicle Mock-Up Facility at the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center on August 27, 2013 in Houston, Texas. The facility is home to a full size mock-up of the International Space Station where astronauts train prior to service. (Photo by Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
NASA's Orion spacecraft, preparing for it's first flight, arrives at the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center, Thursday, Sept. 11, 2014, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Orion is scheduled for a test flight in early December. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
A mock up of the 18,000-pound Orion deep space exporation vehicle is lifted at a high impact pitch of 43-degrees and lifted high enough on the gantry to allow it on release to swing at 47 MPH(76.6 kph) into a pool of water January 6, 2012, to simulate all parachutes being deployed and landing in a worse case senario in rough seas at the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. This type of extreme angle landing isn't likely to occur but is an essential part of thourgh testing. The Orion would eventually be launched by a Delta IV heavy rocket and the multi-destination deep-space crew vehicle is currently slated to visit a asteroid. The US space agency has already spent $5-billion(USD) on the capsule and it's first orbital flight test is scheduled for early 2014. AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
A technician flips over the mock up of the 18,000-pound Orion deep space exporation vehicle that was dropped into a pool of water with an impact pitch of 43-degrees after being lifted high enough on the gantry to allow it on release to swing at 47 MPH(76.6 kph) on January 6, 2012, to simulate all parachutes being deployed and landing in a worse case senario in rough seas at the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. This type of extreme angle landing isn't likely to occur but is an essential part of thorough testing and the final design would feature an onboard uprighting system. The Orion would eventually be launched by a Delta IV heavy rocket and the multi-destination deep-space crew vehicle is currently slated to visit a asteroid. The US space agency has already spent $5-billion(USD) on the capsule and it's first orbital flight test is scheduled for early 2014. AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
NASA's Orion spacecraft, preparing for it's first flight, moves toward the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center, Thursday, Sept. 11, 2014, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Orion is scheduled for a test flight in early December. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
In this image provided by the U.S. Navy, sailors assigned to the amphibious transport dock ship USS Arlington practice recovering an Orion capsule Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013 into the well deck of the USS Arlington as part of NASA's first key Orion stationary recovery test at Naval Station Norfolk. NASA is partnering with the U.S. Navy to develop procedures to recover the Orion capsule and crew after splashdown. (AP Photo/U.S. Navy, Seaman Andrew Schneider)
This Wednesday Feb. 19, 2014 photo released by NASA shows a test version of the Orion spacecraft, tethered inside the well deck of the USS San Diego prior to testing between NASA and the U.S. Navy. NASA and the Navy suspended the test Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014 off the coast of San Diego after a problem was discovered. (AP Photo/NASA)
This Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014 photo released by NASA shows crews testing a test version of Orion's forward bay cover, NASA's next-generation space capsule. NASA and the Navy suspended the test Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014 off the coast of San Diego after a problem was discovered. (AP Photo/NASA)
The service structure is rolled away from NASA's Orion spaceship early Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Orion is scheduled to lift off later this morning on a United Launch Alliance Delta 4-Heavy rocket on its first unmanned orbital test flight. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
CAPE CANAVERAL, FL - DECEMBER 03: In this handout provided by National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket carrying NASA's first Orion deep space exploration craft is seen at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Space Launch Complex 37, December 3, 2014 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The heavy-lift rocket is prepared for a 7:05 launch tomorrow morning and it will boost the unmanned Orion capsule to an altitude of 3,600 miles, and returning for a splashdown west of Baja California after a four and half hour flight. (Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA via Getty Images)
This photo provided by NASA-TV, shows the view from the Orion spacecraft atop a United Launch Alliance Delta 4-Heavy rocket as it climbs to orbit during the first test flight Friday Dec. 5, 2014. (AP Photo/NASA-TV)
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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) - NASA is one step closer to launching its newest spacecraft designed for humans.

Workers at Kennedy Space Center gathered to watch as the Orion capsule emerged from its assembly hangar Thursday morning, less than three months from its first test flight.

The capsule - sealed for protection - slowly made its way to its fueling depot atop a 36-wheel platform. The capsule and its attached service module and adapter ring stretched 40 feet high.

"Isn't this awesome?" said Kennedy's director, Robert Cabana, a former space shuttle commander. "This is our step to the future, the exploration of establishing a presence in the solar system."

Space center employees lined up along the rope barricade to snap pictures of Orion, NASA's lofty follow-on to the now-retired space shuttle program.

During its Dec. 4 test flight, the unmanned capsule will shoot more than 3,600 miles into space and take two big laps around Earth before re-entering the atmosphere at 20,000 mph and parachuting into the Pacific off the San Diego coast. The entire mission will last 4½ hours.

The second Orion flight won't occur until around 2018 when another unmanned capsule soars atop NASA's new megarocket, still under development, called SLS for Space Launch System.

NASA intends to put astronauts aboard Orion in 2021 for deep space exploration; each capsule can accommodate up to four.

The plan is to use Orion for getting humans to asteroids and Mars - no space station ferry trips for Orion. A handful of private U.S. companies are competing for these short taxi flights; NASA expects in the next week or so to pick one or two candidates for funding.

While Orion may resemble an oversize Apollo capsule on the outside, everything inside and out is modern and top-of-the-line, officials noted Thursday. "I'm as excited as can be," said NASA's Orion production operations manager, Scott Wilson.

For Orion's dry run, the Lockheed Martin Corp.-built capsule will have hunks of aluminum in place of seats for ballast, and simulators instead of actual cockpit displays. A Delta IV rocket will do the heavy lifting.

When asked by a reporter, Cabana said he wishes Orion's flight pace was quicker.

"But it is what it is," he said. "Given the budget that we have, I think we've got the best program that you could imagine."

Orion has its roots in the post-Columbia shuttle era; it originated a decade ago as a crew exploration vehicle to get astronauts beyond low Earth orbit and managed to survive the cancellation of the Constellation moon project.

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